Sunday, May 18, 2014


A few years ago I became aware of a blog called IKEA Hacks whose purpose was to showcase the fun and creative things that people have done to, and with, stock pieces from the big blue and yellow box store. That was the fist time I heard the word "hacked" used in that particular manner, to describe taking something existing and making it your own, or better suited to your needs, etc. Of course now there's the site Lifehacker, which helps you "hack" your own habits and daily routines to make them more efficient or interesting or personalized.

The hacking approach can also be applied to food, as I've found many times in my own kitchen. Take something you like and tweak it until it suits your needs, tastes, and budget, and then enjoy the heck out of it. That's just what I did on Friday night with some particularly tasty chicken wings.

Now, I like chicken wings, but I rarely order them in pubs because they are generally deep-fried and breaded/dusted and slathered in sauce, a triple-threat that could induce triple bypass if indulged in too often. So I've tried making them at home a few times - in the oven, or on the grill (well, Chris cooked those) and while they've been fine, they haven't truly hit the spot somehow. I kept on looking for new techniques and somehow stumbled across this one, at Ben and Birdy, that employs the phrase "frying in a puddle of their own fat" and had to try it. Sure enough, all I needed was some parchment paper and patience to make the most delicious wings I've ever had outside of a pub (and much better than some I've had inside a pub, come to think of it).

The blogger says salt and time are the keys to this technique, and I believe her - I didn't have time to salt my wings ahead and let them chill out in the fridge, but I will next time - but I would add a third requirement: really, really good chicken. Chris picked up a couple of packages of frozen wings from a shop in Westboro known as the Piggy Market, and the wings come from Giannone Poultry  in St. Cuthbert, Quebec, about 300 km from us so not exactly local, but they are certified organic and the birds are able to roam, and I can tell you that the meat tasted better than any chicken I've had in recent memory. All I did was sprinkle them with salt, spread them on parchment-lined baking sheets and roast them for 70 minutes at 375, flipping at 30 and 60 minutes. Then I tossed them in a bowl with half a cup of store-bought barbecue sauce and we fell upon them like ravenous beasts.

Seriously, not a scrap of meat was left on the bones, and we didn't dream of cutting the cats in on any of it They were unbelievable. It felt like cheating somehow, but also as though we'd discovered an amazing secret. It's a testament to how much I like all of you (my six loyal readers) that I'm even sharing it. When your next wing craving hits, go to the butcher, not the pub. You can watch the game at home with your feet up on the coffee table and the beer you like best in your hand.

If, like us, you also dig mac and cheese, but also like to get some protein and veggies into your system on a regular basis, then today's lunch hack might be of interest. I am generally far, far too lazy to make mac and cheese from scratch - I have done it, but it's so rich and makes so much and take so long that on the odd occasion I want it, I default to the box. I'm not talking about KD - no fake orange nonsense in this house. No, we are devotees of the PC white cheddar mac around these parts. It's still box mix, but it's infinitely more awesome. The noodles are larger, the "cheese" more realistic. I usually let Chris make it, since he hacked it ages ago to add extra milk and simmer it on low heat to reduce it into a saucier version of itself. Today my brilliant idea, borrowed from many a broke university student, was to add tuna and frozen peas. I like the low-sodium white albacore tuna as it's tasty and also sustainable. So Chris added a drained can, flaked, and about a cup and a half of lovely frozen green peas. As he served it out I had a flash of inspiration: espelette pepper. If you're unfamiliar with it, you should remedy that as it's some of the nicest spice I've ever had the pleasure of consuming - it's spicy but not too hot, flavourful and interesting and pretty. See?

It kicked up the whole thing just enough. We were thrilled with it, and it's going into regular rotation around here. If you don't like peas, I think lightly steamed broccoli would also be fantastic here.

So those are my latest hacks. Tell me your favourites. I'm a bit of a collector now.

This blog brought to you from my back deck, where it is currently sunny and breezy and just a tiny bit cool, and where I am never leaving again. Happy long weekend!

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